Seasonal eating habits

Sometimes you just really want strawberries. That’s why I have three varieties (2 wild, 1 everbearing) that will be used as groundcover in various places. But what if you want strawberries in January? Let’s be honest, we all buy produce out of season and complain about the prices. But when you’re trying to live off your land as much as you can, this is a very important habit to break. 

We are in the heat of late summer and the veggie garden is full of tomatoes and peppers and that’s awesome. But a few short months from now, that’s going to stop. That’s when most backyard gardeners start spending more money at the grocery store again, and the gardens get a ton of mulch. 

But there are many crops that can grow through the fall and even winter. Just last week I scattered the remaining lettuce, spinach, and arugula seeds I had leftover from spring. I can munch on those greens all the way through November. When I get the kale planted, that will grow all through the winter here. 

Broccoli, cabbage, and most other kole crops can overwinter for a spring harvest, though some of them need a little protection. My broccoli struggled through this summer but as the nights are getting cooler here, it’s started growing again. 

But sometimes you really want tomatoes and berries in the winter. That’s where the age old art of preserving comes in. I’ve already mentioned the dehydrator. Today, we received two boxes of apples from my sister and a few pounds of Asian pears from our neighbors. All together, we probably got at least fifty pounds of fruit. Obviously, we won’t eat that before it spoils. 

Apple chips! Apple butter! Apple pie filling for the holidays! And I think I might try a small batch of pear wine. My sister recently got a pressure cooker she now uses for canning so she gave us her old water bath canner. Between hot water, hot air, and a freezer, we will spread this fruit out for the next few months. 

Eating seasonally will save you money, but it doesn’t necessarily mean only eating things that are in season. With the various methods available for home preserving, we will have apples, pears, tomatoes, strawberries, and huckleberries for months after they stop being ripe outside. But by knowing what is in season and focusing more on that, a lot of money can be saved. 

Moving in the summer limited what we were able to do for this year. But next year is going to be like the land of milk and honey. 

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Using what you have

To me, sustainability is largely about using what you have, and making what you have work. I may not have the time, energy, or money to completely transform into a self sufficient off the grid farm in the next 24 hours, but what I DO have is birds landscaping for me and an incredible amount of berries. 

The result of one afternoon of picking huckleberries while I was off working. She didn’t even go after the salal and blackberries. 

So muffins! We’ve also had berry preserves and a berry pie since moving in. Next year will be even more amazing because we missed the elderberry harvest by about a month and we somehow have a stand of black cap raspberries that were too young to produce this year. 

There are also a few scraggly little hazelnut trees on the property. Over the winter I plan on clearing a little space around them to give them more light. We will also be planting several other varieties of fruit and nut. But in the meantime, I’ve got dessert for the weekend, thanks to the wonderful chef I’m lucky enough to have fallen for. 

Yeah, but it’s a dry heat!

The girlfriend really wanted a dehydrator. So I got her one. And not one of those little round plastic doohickeys, this is all steel commercial grade. Of course, we had nothing needing to be dehydrated so it sat there for a few weeks. 

Through work I have twice weekly dealings with the delivery fleet for a produce company in Seattle. I’ve gotten to know a couple of the dock workers there. Pretty nice guys. A few times they’ve just given me food. Apparently they give away to homeless on a regular basis, too. So this time I asked how much they’d charge for a box of tomatoes. I figured cheaper than retail. 

STX INTERNATIONAL Dehydra STX-DEH-1200W-XLS 10-Tray Stainless Steel Digital Food Dehydrator, 1200-watt(The exact model I purchased was discontinued but this is nearly identical)
What I did not expect was to get a free box because a few of the tomatoes were damaged so the box wasn’t sellable. So we removed like four bad tomatoes and had a whole box of free romas! Enter the dehydrator! 

But it gets better. With nearly every shipment they receive, there are “bad boxes” due to damage or overripeness. The dock worker cleared it with his supervisor to set some aside for me every week. So I am definitely going to get my money’s worth out of that machine!

This isn’t to brag. This is point out that opportunities exist all over. Even a grocery store might be willing to giveaway overripe or damaged produce. Even if it’s not good for eating, it could be good for preserving and eating later. And if not, compost it!

Just think, this would have gone to a landfill for just a few bruises and one squished one. Instead, well. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

Warranty!

Public service announcement! Home warranties are worth it. A few days ago, we noticed a trickling sound in the laundry room. At first, we dismissed it as something was running elsewhere in the house and it was just the pipes. But it was constant. A little poking with a flashlight and we found that the hot water line straight from the water heater was sprung a leak. Small, but forceful. 

Thanks to the home warranty my real estate agent had purchased us as a housewarming gift, it cost next to nothing to fix. With all the craziness going on lately, I’m not confident I could have afforded that on my own. 

Purdy plumbing is a good company, too. Just throwing that out there for my western western Washington peeps. 

Diversity matters!

As much as I love the Bielefelders, they aren’t the only breed of chicken I plan on keeping. While subsistence is the primary goal, income is a close second. So while the Bielefelders are great for both meat and egg production, I also want eye appeal when it comes time to sell eggs. 

Bielefelders make fairly average looking large brown eggs. But picture if you will, a basket of eggs. Light brown, tan, dark chocolate brown, olive green, and sky blue. Doesn’t that look like the basket of eggs YOU want to buy?

Introducing the Easter Eggers! Technically speaking, Easter Egger is not a breed, but a generic term for any chicken that carries the gene for blue eggs, indicating they have ameraucana in their ancestry. Each hen will have a specific hue of egg that she will lay, but it can vary a great deal from one hen to another. These four were straight run, meaning that they could be male or female and only time will tell. Bielefelder male and female chicks look different straight out of the egg, one of only two breeds I know of that have that sex linked trait. 

The next type of chicken I am wanting to get is black copper marans. Like the Bielefelders, these are a bit pricier but they lay the dark chocolate brown eggs. 

I purchased the Bielefelders at 7 weeks old for a great price, all things considered. A week later, I got the Easter Eggers at about 4 weeks old. That meant they spent some time in a brooder before being introduced to the flock. 

When introducing younger birds to older ones, it’s best to have about a week or two in which they can see each other but not peck. Newcomers disrupt the pecking order and are too small to defend themselves. As such, my “maybe I’ll hang onto this. It could be useful someday” attitude paid off! Through some bizarre circumstances, I had the top wore portion of a rabbit cage. Et voila! Chick pen!

They now all roam the yard together, but that pen will be super useful as I increase my flock. 

It’s about time to build a bigger coop, though!

Why Huckleberry Hills?

When we moved in, we immediately began thinking of a name. It seems that properties with acreage or houses with more than four bedrooms get to be named. So, cool!

But what name? It had to be friendly, somehow related to sustainable living and food, and express how happy this place makes us. We considered a lot of names but couldn’t decide one. Then my friend Susan came out and showed us that those shrubs that were all over the entire property were actually evergreen huckleberries!

Not long after that, the name just popped out at us. Even then, we kept thinking of names in case a cooler one came up. But it fit so nicely we decided to go with it. 

There are also salal, blackberry, black cap raspberry, and thimbleberry bushes on the property. But the huckleberries really stand out. We’ve already had huckleberry preserves, pie, and muffins. I’ll work on getting pictures of those for the blog but for now, feast your eyes on these beauties!

There are so many that we could sell them commercially if we could figure out a more time effective method of picking them. 

Earn your keep, animals!

Nothing is for show or purely for entertainment in our homestead. Except the pool. And tv. Ok, lemme rephrase. No animal or plant choices are purely for show or fun. That’s better. 

Everything is multipurpose. The chickens provide eggs and meat, but they also have two less obvious jobs. One is entertainment. They’re pretty funny to watch. But more importantly, they’re on the landscaping crew. 

This property was pretty badly neglected for years before I got my grubby little hands on it. The yard is dry, dusty, and hard. It’s good soil down below, but nothing except a few weeds and some REALLY sad looking grass will grow. So we scatter straw all over it and turn the chickens loose. 


A few things happen then. First, the straw works as mulch, retaining moisture. Second, the chickens scratch up the top inch or so of dirt and aerate the soil, helping with the compaction. Third, they poop all over the place and as that breaks down, it fertilizes the soil. This process takes a while, but I figure by springtime we can get some good grass growing there. 

(Here you can see the state of the yard pre-chickens)

Then there’s the pasture. Right now it’s basically a forest. We’ve got a guy coming to take out the trees, and that’s about the only heavy equipment that will be used to turn woods into pasture. 

Once the fences are up, we bring in goats. I’ve selected Spanish goats because they get big and meaty, are generally friendly, and have a few extra things that can be sold such as gorgeous hides and horns. We don’t need the quantities of milk a dedicated dairy goat will produce. Also, as far as I know, I would be the only one in the state raising them which would make me the local supplier for anyone else who wanted them. 

Anyway, we use the goats to clear away all the brush, then bring in pigs. The pigs get penned up in small areas with tree stumps. They will remove those stumps and till the soil. When an area is done, we fence it off and plant pasture grasses. With such a large area at our disposal, we can rotate animals around for years that way. 

This method is not fast. It may not even be cheaper. But it does mean that my animals will do the job heavy equipment would otherwise do, and that while I’m clearing the land, I’m also fertilizing it. 

Backyard chicken keeper or poultry farmer?

All across America, people keep chickens in their back yard. Does that make them chicken farmers? I’d argue that it doesn’t in most cases, unless they’ve got a rooster and are continually eating or selling new birds. But if you’re keeping multiple kinds, you stop being a bird keeper and start being a bird farmer. That’s the rule. That I just made up. 

Introducing Tom and Diane! They are Narragansett turkeys, which is one of america’s oldest heritage breeds. Among other things, this means they can fly. While numerous people have suggested I clip their wings, I find that roosting in the trees puts them conveniently out of coyote reach. I’m not worried that they’ll fly away because they have no reason to and they’ve already accepted the yard as home. 

Many people recommend not keeping turkeys with chickens because of the risk of blackhead disease. But I let them free range together for a couple reasons. First, it’s mainly the young turkey poults that are susceptible to it. Once they’re feathered in they are much tougher. Second, being heritage birds that are genetically half wild, they’re much tougher in general. 

The Narragansett breed is from Rhode Island, and that’s how these two got their names. Modern pop culture reference. These two won’t be food, at least for a long time. The plan is to keep them as a breeding couple and their offspring will be thanksgiving and income. Considering that heritage turkey poults sell for $10 when only a day old, it shouldn’t be too difficult to recover my investment!

I’m sure you noticed the straw. The next post will explain why there is straw all over my front yard, and go into how the animals will be used for more than just food and income!

Birds of a feather

I couldn’t wait. I got chickens like two weeks after moving in. Don’t judge me. 

But as this was a plan a long time in the making, even this rushed decision was carefully planned out. I didn’t just get any old bird. I picked my breeds very carefully. Introducing the Bielefelders!

Let me take a moment and talk about specialty breeds. They aren’t always a good idea. Some people choose their animals by what is easily available and inexpensive. To hell with that! I choose my animals based on what I want from them. 

A lot of research went into the decision to get this largely unknown breed. Several people, including the girlfriend, felt that I was being a little foolish spending more than $6 per chick. And I still get a lot of well intentioned advice from people about my chickens that does not apply. 

Simply put, I don’t care how many chickens you’ve had. If you’ve never had Bielefelders, you don’t know about Bielefelders. 

This is a true dual purpose bird. Or so they say. Really, it’s a multipurpose bird. The roosters can reach up to 12 pounds, making it an excellent meat bird. The hens lay upwards of 200 eggs per year, making it a great laying bird. But they are also incredibly docile, making them excellent pets. I have six roosters. A few were free because I’d bought everything else she had and didn’t want to just have a couple random roosters. There really isn’t any fighting. Basic pecking order stuff. Chest bumping like “come at me bro!” A little pecking. But frankly, they’re far better behaved than most hens I’ve seen. They can crow, and I have video evidence of their little adolescent attempts. But they generally don’t. 

I purchased them at 6-7 weeks old and they’ve quadrupled in size in the last five weeks. They don’t like being picked up, but don’t mind being held. 

Of course, even as well behaved as they are, I neither need not want more roosters than hens! So pretty soon a couple of the boys will become dinner. But this breed is amazing and my girlfriend actually says she feels bad for doubting my research. 

So, specialty breeds can be a good thing. But don’t get them based on cuteness or being exotic. 

Slooooooow dooooooown

My girlfriend is wonderful. I work somewhere between 40 and 1,000 hours a week, so the unpacking, organizing, and preparing for a housewarming party kinda fell on her. And I didn’t really consider that when picking a date. She pulled it off though!

But as a result, she gets a lot of leeway in certain decisions. For example, rather than my real name, I shall henceforth be referred to on this blog as Farmer McFarmface. 

My first project was a swimming pool. No, it’s not farmy. No, it’s not necessary for green sustainable living. But dagnabit, I wanted a pool! Of course, we had no level spot for it. So my nephew helped me clear and level a spot in a couple afternoons so it would be up for the party. It’s not really level. It’ll be coming down this winter and the entire spot will be redone properly. I was in a hurry. 

My advice: if you want a pool, have a pool. But take your time. Don’t set a deadline for getting it in and then rush through site prep. And have all the chemicals and pool care supplies before you set it up! I’m now battling algae because the chlorine was too low for a week and I was exhausted from work. 

But lucky for you, oh hopefully not imaginary readers (didn’t I just make this blog an hour ago?) the next post will actually be farmy and have pictures!